Kyrsten Sinema leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent



CNN

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema will leave the Democratic Party and register as a political independent, she told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive televised interview.

“I’m registered as an Arizona independent. I know some people might be a little surprised by that, but actually, I think it makes a lot of sense,” Sinema said in an interview with Tapper Thursday in her Senate office.

“I’ve never been fully into any party box. I’ve never really tried to. I don’t want to,” she added. “Freeing myself from the partisan structure – not only does it fit who I am and how I operate, I think it will provide a sense of belonging to many people across the state and across the country who are tired of partisanship”

Sinema’s departure from the Democratic Party is unlikely to change the balance of power in the next Senate. Democrats will hold a narrow 51-49 majority, including two independents who caucus with them: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

While Sanders and Kim formally caucus with Democrats, Sinema declined to make it clear that she would, too. She did note, however, that she wants to keep her committee assignments — a sign that she doesn’t intend to upend the composition of the Senate, since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer controls Democrats’ committee lists.

“When I go to work every day, it’s the same,” Sinema said. “I will continue to work and hope to serve on the same committees that I have served on and continue to work well with my colleagues in both political parties.”

But Sinema’s decision to become a political independent makes official what’s long been an independent streak for the Arizona senator, who began her political career as a member of the Green Party before being elected as a Democrat to the US House in 2012 and US Senate in 2018 . Sinema has prided herself on being a thorn in the side of Democratic leaders, and her new nonpartisanship will further her stature in the Senate against the grain, though it raises new questions about how she and Senate Democrats — as 2024 approaches Her re-election, while liberals are already mulling a challenge.

Sinema explained her decision in an op-ed in the Arizona Republic published Friday, noting that her approach in the Senate “disturbed supporters on both sides of the aisle.”

“When politicians focus more on preventing the opposition from winning than on improving American lives, the losers are ordinary Americans,” Sinema wrote.

“That’s why I join a growing number of Arizonans rejecting party politics by declaring my independence from Washington’s fractured party system.”

Sinema is up for re-election in 2024, and Arizona liberals have fielded potential challengers, including Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who said earlier this year that some Democratic senators had urged him to run against Sinema.

“Unfortunately, Senator Sinema is once again putting his own interests ahead of doing things for Arizonans,” Gallego said in a statement after Sinema’s announcement.

Sinema declined to answer questions about her re-election bid in an interview with Tapper, saying it’s not at all her focus right now.

She also brushed off the criticism she may face for her decision to leave the Democratic Party.

“I’m just not worried about people who might not like this approach,” Sinema said. “My concern is continuing to do what’s right for my state. Some people sure don’t like my approach, we hear that a lot. But the proof is in the pudding.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Sinema an “important partner” after the decision and said the White House “has every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Sinema sent a warning to the White House that she was leaving the Democratic Party. In a statement, Schumer said he was also aware of Sinema’s blockbuster announcement by Friday morning.

“She asked me to keep her committee assignment, and I agreed,” Schumer said. “Kirsten is independent; she has always been. I believe she is a good and effective Senator, and I look forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate.”

Schumer also outlined that he doesn’t think Sinema’s decision will affect Democrats’ plans for next year, saying in a statement, “We will maintain our new majorities in committees, exercise our subpoena powers, and be able to vote without a vote. Next clear the nominees.”

The Biden White House responded moderately Friday morning and insisted they want to continue a productive working relationship with the senator.

A White House official told CNN the move “hasn’t changed much” other than Sinema’s own reelection calculations.

“We’ve worked effectively with her on a lot of major legislation from CHIPS to bipartisan infrastructure laws,” the official said. They added that the White House now has “every reason to expect this to continue.”

Sinema has long been the source of a complex confluence of possibility, frustration and confusion within the White House.

“I guess Rubik’s Cube?” is how a former senior White House official described the Arizona senator, who played a central role in President Joe Biden’s biggest legislative victories as well as some of his biggest agenda disappointments played a central role.

A White House official said there was no major push for Sinema to change his mind, noting it would make no difference.

“There has been nothing in the past two years to suggest that a major effort would help — quite the opposite, in fact,” said a White House official.

The most urgent near-term effort, officials say, is to quietly find out what that means for their newly expanded Senate majority.

While there are still clear details to figure out about the process, “I think people will be relieved when we understand better what she means,” said a source familiar with the discussions.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, told “CNN This Morning” that “Senator Sinema has always leaned toward independence,” adding that “I don’t believe it’s going to change things as drastically as everyone thinks.”

She added, “Senator Sinema is for all intents and purposes independent.”

Sinema and Senator Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, have angered liberals on different fronts over the past two years, stymieing Biden’s agenda as Democrats control the House, Senate and White House.

Sinema and Manchin have used their clout in the current 50-50 Senate — where any Democrat could sabotage a bill — to influence a slew of legislation, most notably Biden’s $3.5 trillion “build back better” proposal last year bill. Liberals in particular were angered by Sinema’s opposition to higher corporate tax rates during the first round of negotiations on the legislation last year.

While Sinema was surprised by Manchin’s surprise deal with Schumer in July on major health care and energy legislation, she ended up endorsing the smaller spending package that Biden signed into law before the election.

Manchin and Sinema also oppose changes to Senate filibuster rules, despite pressure from their Senate colleagues and Biden to change them. After voting against the filibuster in January, the Arizona Democratic Party’s executive committee condemned Sinema.

Sinema has been involved in several important bipartisan bills passed since Biden took office. She points to the record as evidence that her method works.

“I am honored to lead historic efforts, from infrastructure, to gun violence prevention, to protecting religious liberty and helping LGBT families feel safe, to CHIPs and the Science Act, to our work on veterans’ issues, ’ she told CNN. “The list is really long. So I think the results speak for themselves. It’s okay if some people aren’t happy with the approach.”

Sinema’s announcement came days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won re-election in Georgia, giving Democrats their 51st Senate seat and moving them away from a decisive victory over Vice President Kamala Harris. Dependency on voting.

Sinema declined to answer questions about whether she would support Biden for president in 2024, and said she did not consider whether a strong third party should emerge in the United States.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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